A transplanted Southern Californian living in North Dakota Idaho, with some insights on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Woof Woof What???

As previously mentioned, I am the proud owner of two dogs who also just happen to be quite deaf. Actually owner is probably inaccurate as I am more the pack leader than an owner, since both dogs recognize and respect my authority as pack leader. Tito the Wonder Puppy has been with my girlfriend for almost six years and Shaak Ti has been part of the family unit for six months.

When my girlfriend moved in last Spring, we had long discussed getting another dog, both for us and as a companion for Tito. I had been browsing the local Humane Society, ASPCA, and Helen Woodward Animal Center Websites for dogs of appropriate age and size, and were aiming for a dog in the 20 to 30 pound range since a dog any bigger would probably not get along well with Tito. It was during a random search on Craigslist that I saw an ad for a "Very Sweet and Loving, but Deaf Dog". Thinking to myself "ha, wouldn't it be a hoot to have two deaf dogs", I forwarded the link to my girlfriend as kind of a joke, who immediately thought it was a wonderful idea. D'oh. In all honesty the picture of the dog was pretty cute and she seemed to be about the right size, so in retrospect it wasn't that silly of an idea. Though if you had gone to Vegas a year ago, the odds of me becoming the proud pack leader of two deaf dogs would have been about 160,000 to 1.

I sent an e-mail to the Craigslist ad and got a very nice response from a woman named Katie who runs a dog training and boarding service (http://www.collared-scholar.com/) and rescues deaf dogs from Southern California shelters on the side. Katie was fostering the dog and was impressed that we already had a deaf dog of our own. We arranged a chance for all of us to meet (including Tito) Shaak Ti - whose name was Elsie at the time. The rest is the typical "love at first sight" that happens with awesome dogs. She was a great little dog, affectionate, but not needy, and not only got along well with Tito, but spent a lot of time just quietly playing around with a toy, giving the impression that she was good at keeping herself entertained, which turned out to be kinda true.

Katie explained that she had trouble adopting her out because many people incorrectly assumed deafness to be an immense handicap that would never allow a dog to be happy or enjoy its life. She also had people who balked at the nominal $50 adoption fee and had assumed that "she'd be free since she's disabled" or something to that affect. People seem to have very strange misconceptions about deaf dogs. First of all, unless people are told, almost no one knows that the dogs are deaf. Once told, I get a lot of "Wow, they seem really well adjusted" and "You can't even tell they're handicapped", which strikes me as odd since dog, person, or canary, I wouldn't consider deafness a handicap.

The drawbacks of having a deaf dog are pretty obvious, they can't hear when you call to them, but most dogs, Tito especially, but Shaak Ti as well, make up for this by maintaining eye contact with you as much as possible. We take both dogs to the beach and dog park and as they scamper around having fun, regularly look up and check in with us. If we want them to return we give them the hand command and they (usually) return. Teaching deaf dogs is really no different than hearing dogs, positive reinforcement, a few treats, and pets when the command is performed. The only difference is that the commands are hand signals instead of auditory signals. Of course when the dog is misbehaving, like getting into the trash can, well they obviously aren't too keen on making eye contact, and this is probably the biggest change from a hearing dog. Instead of sitting on the couch and yelling "No!! Bad Dog!!" I actually have to get up off my ass, and go over to correct her behavior. For 95% of Americans though, being able to overcome this inherent laziness is akin to asking them to fly.

The benefits if having a deaf dog? Almost too many to count. Fire engines, neighborhood dogs howling, loud music, thunderstorms, doesn't faze them for a second. My brother was helping me with some house renovations, cutting through wood, drywall, and stucco with a reciprocating saw, screeching and cutting and Shaak Ti was snuggling on my lap ten feet away, totally oblivious to it all. And when we're on our daily walk, if they don't see the dog barking from the backyard fence, they won't even look over, prompting more than person to remark "what well trained dogs you have". Rather than spoil their nice compliment with the truth, I simply say "thanks".

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